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In Gela the most innovative biorefinery in Europe

The plant processes used vegetable and cooking oils, animal fats, algae and waste to produce high quality biofuels.

The biorefinery

Launched in August 2019, the plant has a processing capacity of up to 750,000 tonnes a year and will be able to treat larger and larger quantities of used vegetable and frying oil, animal fats, algae and waste/advanced by-products to produce high-quality biofuels. A total of more than 360 million euros has so far been spent on the conversion of the refinery and the ancillaries units. In March 2021, 18 months after the bio-refinery was opened, the new Biomass Treatment Unit (BTU) begins production, allowing up to 100% of raw material waste to be used for biofuel production, to create a zero-kilometre circular economy model for the production of biodiesel, bio-naphtha, bioLPG and bio-jet. Castor oil will also be used to feed the Gela biorefinery, thanks to an experimental project to grow castor plants on semi-desert land in Tunisia, thereby completely replacing palm oil, which will no longer be used in Eni's production processes from 2023. The plant’s construction began in early 2020 and despite slowdowns caused by the management of activities during the pandemic, the vast majority of the project was completed on schedule. 1.3 million hours were worked, with zero accidents for both Eni people and contract workers.

Our bio-refinery in Gela is designed for treating advanced and unconventional loads up to 100% of processing capacity. It is one of the few bio-refineries in the world with such high operating flexibility. Gela is defined by its ability to process "unconventional" second-generation raw material from food production waste, regenerated used cooking oil (RUCO), animal fats (tallow) and by-products from processing vegetable oil.  This makes it an innovative plant with high environmental sustainability that can process loads that would otherwise be disposed of as waste – to the cost of the community and the environment – using them instead for biofuel.

In addition, in 2021 the incidence rate of palm oil supplied for the production of biodiesel was reduced by approximately 34 percentage points compared to 2020, leveraging on the start-up of a new Biomass Treatment Unit (BTU) at the Gela biorefinery, enabling the use of up to 100% of biomass not in competition with the food chain for the production of biofuels. 

In 2021, production of biofuels (HVO) amounted to approximately 585 ktonnes according to certifications in use (European RED and related directives) and the volumes of biofuels processed from vegetable oil were 665 mmtonnes down by 6% from the previous period.

The development of SAF biofuels

The development of biofuels is one of the drivers of Eni’s energy transition path based on the circular economy. This target leverages on our two distinctive biorefineries in Gela and Venice, characterized by cutting-edge proprietary technologies and steady product and process improvements. In 2021, started the production of sustainable aviation fuels “SAF” (sustainable aviation fuels) from “UCO” raw materials (waste oils and other waste) not in competition with the food chain, by applying the proprietary technologies of traditional refining. The production of SAF is expected to ramp-up with about 10 thousand tons/year through co-feeding of the oil-loaded plants with UCO, until the start-up in 2024 of the Eni Biojet project at the Gela biorefinery. This latter will allow to sale additional 150 thousand tons/year of SAF, being entirely produced from organic raw materials, able to meet the potential obligation of the Italian market for 2025. We confirm our commitment for palm-free biofuels by 2023, thanks to our continuous process innovations and the entry into operation of the BTU unit at Gela which will able to significantly expand the flexibility of feedstock processing chain. In 2021 we reduced by a third the incidence of palm oil.

The environmental impact

Building the bio-refinery guarantees improvement in all environmental fields, emitting more than 70% fewer emissions (of SO2, NOx, CO and dust) than traditional production cycles. We will be doing a variety of things to improve the visual aspect of the site. The skyline of the industrial area will gradually improve with the planned decommissioning of the old oil refining facilities, including the demolition of the SNOX stack. In the first phase, lasting three years, all twenty hectares of disused areas on the site will be dismantled and repurposed. We will also remove debris and structures on the seabed, stretching 500 m along each side of the pier.

The Ecofining plant

To create the Ecofining™ plant, we modified the two existing desulphuration units and built a steam reforming unit to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen is a basic ingredient in hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), the biodiesel that, when added to fossil diesel at 15%, makes the premium fuel Enidiesel.

The Waste-to-Fuel plant

In addition to the new bio-refinery, the Gela site is also home to the Waste-to-Fuel pilot plant. Transforming organic waste into water and bio-oil since December 2018. The construction and commissioning of the pilot plant, by the environmental company Eni Rewind, involved an investment of approximately €11 million. This plant, designed to process up to 700 kg/day of the wet fraction of municipal solid waste (OFMSW) and produce approximately 100 kg/day of bio-oil, will make it possible to assess the feasibility of applying the technology on an industrial scale.

2020 Eni Local Sustainability Report for Gela

Each year, we publish a comprehensive report on the activities of Eni companies at the Gela site. A major focus of the report is a closer look at the companies’ contribution towards the target of carbon neutrality by 2050. In detailing the progress we are making in tackling the challenges around the energy transition, it reveals how these challenges have become even starker in the light of the pandemic. The document also places safety and respect for the environment in the spotlight. The 2020 edition of the Local Sustainability Report provides an overview of activities in this area, which take place with the active engagement of local stakeholders, as we work together to achieve a shared long-term sustainability target. 

The document forms part of Eni’s sustainability reporting, which also includes the 2020 Consolidated Disclosure of Non-Financial Information (NFI), drafted in accordance with Legislative Decree 254/2016, and Eni’s 2020 Sustainability Report. These can be consulted for further information.

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